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This is the forty-fifth in a series that introduces and describes the various dive services and sites for worldwide liveaboard dive safaris. This one focuses on the best liveaboard destinations for advanced divers.
In addition to this review on liveaboards, the best worldwide dive resort locations and services are reviewed in their own series. To check them out, or other liveaboards, click on Liveaboards/Resorts on the menu at the top and choose a title from the list.
Have you ever been diving on any of the locations described below? If so, I’d love to know about your experience. What liveaboard did you use? How was the diving? Were the services and accommodations good? Please post your response in the comments section at the bottom and we’ll all learn something we can use.
What sort of liveaboard is suitable for advanced divers?
A liveaboard is great for going to remote locations and packing in a lot of diving in a relatively short time frame. There are tried and true spots that are famous and have a lot of traffic that are certainly worth going to and some that have yet to be discovered by the masses offering something little explored with an aura of mystery. Many of these sites are deeper, involve penetration, significant depth or current, and require specialized skills. A diver without supervised training for such conditions should not attempt to dive in such locations. Here we will introduce 10 such sites that require advanced skills and have excellent liveaboard yachts providing the safari.
Best Liveaboard Destinations for Advanced Divers
- Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
- Cocos Island, Costa Rica
- Raja Ampat, Indonesia
- Truk (Chuuk)
- French Polynesia
- Socorro Islands
- Red Sea, Egypt
- Komodo, Indonesia
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
With volcanic subsea terrain and strong currents, the Galapagos isn’t known for its coral and encrusting marine life. That is more than made up for with perhaps the most diverse megafauna of any dive site in the world. The many species of shark include Galapagos, silky, tiger, hammerhead, and whale sharks, not to mention reef sharks. There are mantas, mobulas, and several other ray species, Mola Mola, and pelagics like big-eye jacks, and barracuda, and gamefish like marlin. Divers are often swarmed by huge schools of reef tropicals and nooks and crannies often hide macro critters, cephalopods, and crustaceans. Add in the marine iguanas, penguins, dolphins, orcas, sea lions, and fur seals, the diversity of large animals is almost unfathomable. There are at least 32 liveaboards servicing the Galapagos, a number in the luxury category. Pricing is relatively high for all levels, but that can be accounted for by demand and the isolation.
- It is pretty warm all year with average daily air temperature highs peaking at 88°F (31°C) in March and April and reaching lows of 79°F (26°C) from May through September.
- The water temperature stays in a range of 71-77°F (22-25°C) with the lows during the dry season from June to December. From December through June it is rainier and the water temp moves toward the middle and top of that range. At the lows, many divers will want a 5-7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves or perhaps a drysuit.
- A plankton bloom happens during the dry season which attracts a variety of rays and hammerhead sharks. Another plankton bloom happens between June and December which draws whale sharks. The cooler water also brings penguins and Mola Mola.
- Visibility is usually in the 33-70 feet (10-21 meters) range though it can be lower especially during the plankton blooms.
- Current can get strong at times depending on the season, tide, and dive site.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver but with the current, potential low visibility, and possible surface chop, as well, it is best for divers to come with at least an Advanced Open Water Diver certification. The yachts offer from 4-17 day itineraries with most in the 6-8 day range. Nitrox is available and most offer the nitrox specialty course, as well
For reviews of the Galapagos Island liveaboards and scuba diving, check out these posts:
- Best Galapagos Liveaboard Dive Trips Described, Reviewed & Compared
- Scuba Diving in the Galapagos Islands
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Situated 36 hours offshore from Costa Rica, Cocos Island is known as a sort of mini Galapagos. Set on volcanic terrain with pinnacles, rocks, and seamounts it has tremendous biodiversity with 27 endemic fish species. Nutrients brought from upwelling and ocean currents have created an excellent invitation for whale sharks, shoals of hammerheads and manta rays, especially from June to December. Other highlights include tiger and bull sharks, large numbers of resident whitetip reef sharks, and schools of pelagics like barracuda and big-eye jacks, and reef tropicals. Strong currents make for exhilarating drift dives suitable for experienced divers.
- Diving is possible all year with air temperature average daily highs between 81-84°F (27-29°C).
- In the dry season from December through May surface conditions are smoother and visibility better. The rainy season from June through December brings more surface chop and reduces visibility. This is also the time for plankton blooms which entice more mantas and whale sharks to the area. The rains may make life a little uncomfortable but don’t often interfere with diving.
- The water temperature has a range of 75-86°F (24-30°C) but thermoclines can decrease the temperature significantly. Divers are advised to wear 5mm of thermal protection and plan for the thermocline.
- Visibility has a range of 33-80 feet (10-24 meters). When it rains heaviest, the visibility decreases to the bottom of the range.
- Current can be moderate to strong at times depending on the site, season, and tide. Divers should plan on at least moderate current.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver but with the current, it is best for divers to come with at least an Advanced Open Water Diver certification. The 4 yachts cruising Cocos Island offer 8-12 day itineraries. Nitrox is available and the nitrox specialty course, as well. Two of the four yachts also offer other diving coursework. Confirm what is possible when booking.
For reviews of the Cocos Island liveaboards and Costa Rican scuba diving, check out these posts:
There is a variety of sites in the Philippines with great marine life diversity in intriguing underwater environments. Divers of all levels will find a lot to enjoy including beautiful coral gardens, heaps of reef tropicals, macro critters, sharks, and pelagics. For those with more advanced and technical capabilities, the diving possibilities are much greater.
Tubbataha Reef, though only open from March through June due to sea conditions, has it all for the undersea naturalist with tremendous diversity on pristine reefs. The macro and reef tropicals are world-class and megafauna highlights include a variety of sharks, including whale sharks, manta and eagle rays, and turtles. Currents and depth offer exciting possibilities.
The Visayas and Apo Reef, where a number of liveaboards spend significant time, are also nearly as rich and offer their own special attractions. In Malapascua in the Northern Visayas, there is perhaps the most reliable place in the world to spot thresher sharks on a daily basis at cleaning stations in 100 feet (30 meters) of water.
The Japanese wrecks of Coron, all sunk in one massive attack, offer very well preserved ships, several quite huge, at recreational and technical depths with excellent penetration possibilities.
The 13 liveaboards serving the Philippines mostly mix and match putting together the best itineraries suitable for the season.
- Air temperature is somewhat variable around the country but you can expect average daily highs in the range of 82-95°F (28-35°C).
- Water temperature will also have variation from region to region with it staying in a range of 77-88°F (25-31°C). Most divers won’t think of using a wet suit thicker than 5mm.
- There are places where current is minimal and others where it can be strong based on seasonal tidal conditions.
- On most of the reef sites, you can look for 50-100 foot (15-30 meters) of visibility. On the Coron wrecks, it runs around 16-50 feet (5-15 meters) with better vis in the dry season from November through June.
- The rainiest times are somewhat variable by location, but generally, it is wetter from May through September.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver but with the current, depth, and penetration of the wrecks, it is best for divers to come with at least an Advanced Open Water Diver certification. The yachts offer 3-12 day itineraries with most in the 7-8 day range. Nitrox is available and the nitrox specialty course, as well, on most. Several also offer other diving coursework. Confirm what is possible when booking.
For reviews of the Philippines liveaboards, check out these posts:
- Best Liveaboard Diving Philippines
- Best Tubbataha Reef Liveaboards
- Best Diving in the Philippines Visayas Liveaboards
- Best Coron Wrecks & Apo Reef Liveaboard
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Fantastic biodiversity on pristine reefs is the major claim to fame for Raja Ampat. Reefs can boast 1,500 species of fish, 500 species of coral, and 700 different mollusks. There is often substantial drift over a variety of subsea topography that includes white and black sand, mangrove forests, grass beds, coral gardens, rocky slopes, and steep walls. There are even a number of wrecks including a P-47D Thunderbolt aircraft. Swarms of fish, a multitude of macro critters, and pelagics like dogtooth tuna, giant trevallies, or mackerel are seen on practically every dive. Megafauna marine life frequenting the reef are bumphead parrotfish, Maori wrasses, white and blacktip reef sharks, wobbegongs, manta rays, green turtles, and the possibility of whales, orcas, pods of dolphins, or perhaps a dugong. The variety of macro critters and colorful reef tropicals are equally spectacular. It’s a photographer’s dream.
- With the warm equatorial climate, diving is good all year in Raja Ampat. Average air temperature daily highs stay in the range of 78-91°F (25-32°C).
- Likewise, water temperature is warm in a range of 79-86°F (26-30°C).
- Raja Ampat has two rainy seasons, one from October through May considered the preferable time to dive, and the other in July and August. Plankton blooms from October to April attract large numbers of manta rays.
- Monsoon winds in July and August tend to create rougher surface conditions in some locations, though others have a degree of protection.
- In many locations currents can be moderate to strong, requiring the skills of an experienced diver.
- The visibility has a range of 30-100 feet (9-30 meters). Plankton blooms and rain can influence it to the lower end.
- With the moderate to strong current, many sites are suitable for divers with the Advanced Open Water Diver certification. The dozens of yachts cruising Raja Ampat offer 7-14 day itineraries with most in the 8-11 day range. Nitrox is available and the nitrox specialty course, as well, on most. Many also offer other diving coursework. Confirm what is possible when booking.
For reviews of the Rajah Ampat and adjoining region liveaboards and diving, check out these posts:
- Best Raja Ampat Indonesia Liveaboard Reviews
- Raja Ampat Diving
- Best Cenderawasih Bay Diving Liveaboard
- Banda Sea Liveaboard Scuba Diving Indonesia
Palau is another great place for biodiversity with pristine healthy reefs and a large volume and variety of macro life forms, lots of sharks, turtles, pelagics, and huge schools of fish. There are calm shallow coral gardens, high acceleration drift dives along vertical walls, and something for everyone in between. In addition, there is the famous stingless jellyfish lake and some fascinating historical wrecks. Beginners and the quite advanced divers will find something of stimulation. There is an Indo-Pacific who’s who of macro critters and reef tropicals to go along with massive schools of jacks and barracuda, hawksbill and green turtles, eagle and manta rays, 3 varieties of reef shark, leopard, and whale sharks, and dolphins.
- With the warm air temperature in the range of 76-88°F (24-31°C), diving is possible all year in Palau.
- Water temperature is in the range of 84-86°F (29-30°C) most of the year but drops to 79°F (26°C) in February and March. A 3mm wetsuit is probably the most thermal protection needed for most.
- 16-22 days per month it rains, but it doesn’t often interfere with diving for long. Rains and winds are stronger from July to September. Typhoons only rarely disrupt marine activities. Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 caused some property damage but no major injuries or fatalities in spite of the fact that no one evacuated. Surface conditions tend to be a little rougher due to winds and rain from July to September.
- Palau is known for strong currents on some of the sites on which divers even use reef hooks in order to maintain a position to enjoy sharks and pelagics.
- Visibility is usually in the range of 50-130 feet (15-40 meters). During the season of rain and winds from July to September it can dip to the low end.
- From January to April whale sharks and mantas are more prevalent with hawksbill and green turtles seen in greater numbers from April to July.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver but where there is moderate to strong current it is best to limit participation to divers with the Advanced Open Water Diver certification. The seven yachts cruising Palau offer 8-11 day itineraries. Nitrox is available and the nitrox specialty course, as well, on most. Most also offer other diving coursework. Confirm what is possible when booking.
For reviews of Palau liveaboards and diving, check out these posts:
Truk, or Chuuk, as it is commonly known today, is an atoll with a protected reef around a large lagoon. During the second world war, Japan housed its largest offshore military base there, which made it target #1 for Task Force 58 in its orchestrated attack, Operation Hailstone, that destroyed hundreds of aircraft and all the ships in the lagoon. Today it is the resting place for 200 aircraft and 60 ships which provide more than 50 viable dive sites creating nirvana for wreck enthusiasts. Many of the “Ghost Fleet” are cargo vessels, but there are also offensive naval ships, as well, with loads of artifacts still in place revealing glimpses of the previous life onboard. There are deck guns, tanks, other weapons, and ammo, some of it unstable, along with gas masks, daily items and some human remains deep inside. After all these years there is rich encrusting invertebrate life, macro critters, reef tropicals, and more spectacular residents like reef sharks and turtles and seasonal visitors including whale sharks and mantas from December through April.
One of the two yachts diving on Truk takes a hiatus during the rainy season and runs safaris to Bikini Atoll to dive the wrecks there from the Pacific Proving Grounds where the effects from atomic bombs were tested from 1946-1958 on an obsolete fleet of naval vessels. Many are quite deep and provide great exploration opportunities for technical divers.
- The tropical warm weather allows for diving year-round in Truk with the best conditions from October through April, the dry season. Of the two liveaboards diving Truk, one dives there all year and the other takes a break in the rainy season to do a number of trips to Bikini Atoll, as mentioned above.
- Likewise, the water is always warm at 81-86°F (27-30°C). A 3mm wetsuit is sufficient for most.
- In April through July, the winds may be high which can make for some surface chop, but inside the protected lagoon it won’t affect diving much.
- In the sheltered lagoon, visibility is usually pretty good but can be as low as 25 feet (8 meters).
- With the depth and penetration possibilities diving in Truk is suitable for divers with a minimum of the Advanced Open Water Diver certification. The two yachts cruising Truk offer 8-11 day itineraries. Nitrox is available on both as well as the nitrox specialty course. Both vessels are set up to support rebreather and tech diving.
For reviews of Truk Lagoon & Bikini Atoll liveaboards, check out this post:
The 118 islands of French Polynesia are widely dispersed and very remote in their South Pacific locations. Diving traffic is very low and the reefs and marine life remain in excellent shape with pristine reefs, great diversity, and a variety of attractive macro life and reef tropicals to go along with a large array of big fish and mammals. The range of undersea terrain includes shallow coral gardens, caverns, swim-throughs, steep walls, channels, and several wrecks. Megafauna to look for are whitetip, blacktip, and grey reef sharks, tiger and silky sharks, eagle and manta rays, stingrays, schools of tuna, barracuda, and big-eye jacks, green and hawksbill turtles, dolphins, and humpback whales. Only two liveaboards dive French Polynesia, one a small catamaran with very personal service and the other a larger more classically equipped full-service vessel.
- It is always warm with the water temperature in a range of 79-82.4°F (26-28°C). A 3mm wetsuit is the maximum thermal protection needed.
- November through April is the wet season. The plankton blooms in this period attracting pelagics and whales which are more likely in November. Cyclones and typhoons don’t pose a major threat this far from continental landfall.
- Visibility is great running around 100 feet (30 meters) inside lagoons and extending to 130 feet (40 meters) in open water.
- In some areas, especially channels, the current can be strong.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver but with strong currents, and deeper dives having the Advanced Open Water Diver certification is well advised. In addition, with the French system employed there is enforcement of depth limits based on certification level. The maximum depth for Open Water Divers is 60 feet (18 meters). For Advanced Open Water and Rescue Divers, the limit is 97 feet (29 meters). If you are a Master Scuba Diver, or the equivalent, 130 feet (40 meters) is possible. The two liveaboards offer the Advanced Open Water Diver course and some others, on request. Nitrox is and the nitrox specialty course, are only offered on only one of the two. Confirm what is possible when booking.
For reviews of French Polynesia liveaboards, check out this post:
The four main islands of the Revillagigedo Archipelago often called the Socorro Islands after the name of the biggest island in the group, are a 26-28 hour boat ride from the embarkation point at Cabo San Lucas. Formed through geothermal activity which is ongoing today, the islands offer a subsea terrain of lava tubes and steep walls bathed in significant current. Like Cocos Island and the Galapagos, people don’t go to this archipelago to look at beautiful corals and invertebrate life forms. They go to see the megafauna that is attracted to this remote and pristine location which includes shoals of hammerheads, whale sharks, numerous other shark species, manta rays and dolphins with little timidity, big pelagics, and huge schools of fish. The nine yachts that travel to the Socorro Islands also go to two other locations in the offseason. Some travel to Guadalupe Island on the Pacific side of Baja California to dive with great white sharks and others travel to the Sea of Cortez for beautiful corals, whales, sharks, seals, pelagics, rays, and sharks.
- At this location far offshore the diving season runs from November to May with a couple of yachts continuing through July. The seas can be much rougher the rest of the year.
- It’s warm during the diving season and all year with average daily high air temperature lows of 83°F (28°C) between December and February.
- Water temperature can get to lows in winter of 70°F (21°C) and highs in summer of 82°F (28°C) meaning that a 5-7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves may be needed when the water is at its coolest during the heart of the diving season
- Visibility is variable based on the weather with a range of 30-200 feet (9-60 meters). Most of the time the range is 60-100 feet (18-30 meters).
- Rain is possible throughout the year but doesn’t often interfere much during the diving season.
- There are times and locations where the current can be strong and surface conditions rough. During the diving season from November through May, surface conditions are optimal.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver but where there is moderate to strong current and deeper it is best to limit participation to divers with the Advanced Open Water Diver certification. The nine yachts cruising the Socorro Islands offer 8-11 day itineraries. Nitrox is available and the nitrox specialty course, as well, on most. Most also offer other diving coursework. Confirm what is possible when booking.
For reviews of Socorro Islands liveaboards, check out these posts:
- Socorro Islands Liveaboard Scuba Diving
- Guadalupe Island Shark Diving and Socorros Islands Liveaboards
Red Sea, Egypt
Covering a broad area from north to south the Red Sea has a rich variety of dive sites that include some of the best historic wrecks like the SS Thistlegorm in the north, diverse colorful coral reefs, and a variety of undersea topography including caves and caverns. All of this is offered by many of the liveaboards at ridiculously low pricing, especially considering the high quality of facilities and services. The Brothers Islands, Elphinstone, and St. John’s in the southern section have sites with strong currents that bring seasonal pelagics including whale sharks, manta rays, hammerheads, and shoals of barracuda, on reefs with an array of reef tropicals and macro critters, and other sharks, rays, and dolphins.
- There is variation from north to south in the Red Sea off Egypt with air temperature average highs reaching around 97°F (36°C) in summer and 70°F (21°C) in winter.
- The water temperature follows the air temperature fairly closely with highs in summer of 82°F (28°C) and lows in winter of 70°F (21°C). The rest of the year it is somewhere between the two extremes. A 7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves will suit many divers when the water is at its coolest.
- There is little rain in this desert area with the especially dry season from May through September.
- Currents are mild oftentimes but can be strong on some sites at times making for exciting drift diving.
- Visibility is usually in the 21-30 meter (70-100 foot) range all year. It is possible to find it as good as 60 meters (200 feet) on some sites.
- There are sites suitable for all levels of diver with some of the wrecks, deep dives and those with strong current suitable only for advanced level divers. The 73 liveaboards that dive the Red Sea can take care of beginning level and advanced divers and provide broad coverage to this huge area. Many offer very low pricing. Scuba diving courses including for nitrox are offered on many of them.
For reviews of the Red Sea Egypt liveaboards and locations, check out these posts:
- Best Red Sea Liveaboards Reviewed and Compared
- Best Red Sea Marsa Alam Diving
- Best Diving Sharm el Sheikh Egypt
- Best Diving in Hurghada Red Sea
The Komodo National Park is the site of many volcanoes and home to the 275-pound (125-kilogram) Komodo dragon. The diving is characterized by pristine coral reefs ranging from shallow coral gardens to volcanic rocks and pinnacles swept by exhilarating currents and upwelling that have created a haven for extreme biodiversity. Abundant colorful reef tropicals and macro critters are the delights of photographers who can also go wide-angle to shoot a range of megafauna including shoals of schooling fish, Napoleon wrasses, whitetip reef sharks, resident manta rays, Mola Mola in August, hawksbill turtles, dolphins, whales, and other pelagics.
- It is always quite warm in Komodo with average daily high air temperatures in a range of 86-90°F (30-32°C).
- Likewise, water temperature is warm in a range of 81-86°F (27-30°C).
- The dry season is from April through November. This is the main time for plankton blooms that lure in more than the usual number of manta rays.
- In the rainy season from December through March seas are rougher.
- In many locations currents can be moderate to strong, requiring advanced diving skills.
- The visibility has a range of 16-100 feet (5-30 meters). Plankton blooms and rain can influence it to the lower end.
- With the moderate to strong current possible, many sites are suitable for divers with the Advanced Open Water Diver certification which some of the liveaboards require. The dozens of yachts cruising Komodo offer 4-12 day itineraries. Nitrox is available and the nitrox specialty course, as well, on most. Many also offer other diving coursework. Confirm what is possible when booking.
For reviews of Komodo and nearby Alors and Flores Liveaboards, check out these posts:
- Best Komodo Island Scuba Diving Liveaboard Reviews
- Best Indonesia Liveaboard Diving Alors and Flores
If you have the interest in further comparisons and reviews of liveaboards, please check out these posts:
- Best Liveaboard Destinations for Whale Sharks
- Best Liveaboard Destinations For Manta Rays
- Best Liveaboard Destinations For Wreck Diving
- Best Liveaboard Destinations For Diving With Sharks
- Best Liveaboard Destinations for Beginners
- Best Liveaboard Dive Boats (Short Trips)
- Best Liveaboard Dive Boats (Low Budget)
- Best Liveaboard Dive Boats (Luxury)
Last Minute Liveaboard Deals & Special Offers
For greatly reduced pricing on special offers for a broad range of liveaboards in 17 countries around the world, please check out this post:
A cushion for emergencies provides peace of mind when on vacation. I recommend this diving insurance as they have worldwide coverage and give scuba divers a quality insurance and medical assistance service.
Feedback and Comments
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